|First Christmas Tree, Madison Square Park 1906|
I am guilty, especially this year, of holding on to Christmas, perhaps a little too tight. I will be a mess the day we take the tree down and put away all the ornaments and decorations. I like to buy things after Christmas, and this year I haven't done any shopping, except exchange for a jacket that didn't fit my daughter. It's a do-over.
I wish we could make Christmas a do-over. I have a lot of work staring me in the face in January.
I took a lot of days of rest this December, got well, emersed myself in family traditions, put on a big dinner with 38# of prime rib that was out of this world, gave some presents that were close to my heart. At the end of it all, I still wonder if I did enough. I know I shouldn't feel guilty of taking a few private days for myself – watching Knick in binge mode, going to the movies twice and just watching as the Christmas lights danced in my grandchildren's eyes. The bears were a hit and we got a beautiful video of all three Eastern Grands playing with them.
My dogs have eaten 3 rib bones already, and I've been lovingly vacuuming up white bone splinters here and there. My bedspread has paw prints on it and will have to be washed.
We wore ugly sweaters for Christmas morning breakfast, our tradition, and carried on the tradition of my grandparents some 90 years ago when they were a young newlywed couple. Forgive me if you've heard the story before, but here it is again.
My grandfather was a young preacher in Illinois, at his first church. Many of you know he started from a wealthy family in upstate New York, his mother was a concert pianist and his father was a “man of business.” They had racehorses and a beautiful home that stood above the Hudson River he liked to say the New York Stock Exchange was copied after. My grandfather was training to be a stock broker.
My grandfather witnessed a suicide, a man jumping from an office window, when he'd lost his fortunes. It had such an impression on him, he felt called to do something about it, and so began preaching in Madison Square Park. Yes, it was the park Madison Square Gardens was named after. As a child I was told it was, “On the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway.”
Apparently it was known in the day as a kind of Speaker's Park, where people could get up on a box and begin to protest or to preach. My grandfather became a well-known regular, and turned his back on his wealthy upbringing. A gentleman used to stop by and listen to him, later telling him he should get a degree and become a leader of a flock. He even helped pay for an education at the divinity school. Grandpa got involved in the Riverside Baptist Church, and became an ordained Baptist minister some years later. I can remember a picture of this church was on his wall.
|Madison Square Park today|
His first church, then, was in Illinois. He'd already met and married my grandmother, an invalid he'd called upon, and with the help of his readings and the love of the handsome young preacher, she got out of bed and became his partner in all things. A woman who was supposed to die in her late twenties, she went on to bear two children and live to be 73 (outliving 3 of her doctors). I always loved hearing that story, because it read like the Brownings.
That first Christmas they were snowed in, and Grandma wasn't able to go out and get the shopping done for Christmas dinner. All she had were eggs, canned pineapple rings, and some sausage. She made a dinner, using red and green sprinkles on the pineapple rings, served the sausage and eggs and her famous fresh biscuits. And that has become our family traditional Christmas morning breakfast ever since.
When we went back to visit the 9-11 memorial some years ago, and to visit our son, then attending NYU Film School, my husband and I sat in the park, and yes, I could hear my grandfather's words echoing in the distance, bouncing off the faces of now-famous buildings, one of them the Flatiron Building. I felt the connection to my past, his past.
Maybe this year we'll leave up all our decorations until Easter, like we did one year, until my youngest burst into tears and told me he couldn't invite over his friends because “our Christmas Tree is still up.”
Yes, I am guilty of holding on too much. I never give up on a good story, or a memory. I never forget that who I am today is the result of those who came before me and who gave their life's stories, customs, and history.
But I don't have to worry about it today. I have a book to write, a book to finish, and it's a long time before Easter.
One of my favorite readings at this time of you, is a gift to you. Enjoy. May your Christmas be merry and bright, and your New Year sparkly and exciting. Thank you for traveling with me this year, and hope we stay connected in the years to come.
Excerpt, from The Velveteen Rabbit:
Christmas Morning For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand allabout it. "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?" "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.The Skin Horse Tells His Story "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him. There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this "tidying up," and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit didn't mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft. One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop. "Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!" And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the Boy's arms. That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy's bed. At first he found it rather uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits lived in. And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana had gone away to her supper and left the night-light burning on the mantelpiece. And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit would snuggle down close under his little warm chin and dream, with the Boy's hands clasped close round him all night long. And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy-so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
One of my most memorable Christmases was one year when things were very tight, financially. I mean, it was so tight, I sold the kids on the fact that (and it's true) Christmas isn't about the presents, it's about being together. They took it well, and I'm not sure the younger ones understood, but my oldest two knew something was wrong.
What had started out to be a great lark, living up at our beautiful wine country property in an Airstream Trailer (yes I've done this before) with three kids and one on the way, who was born while we lived in the trailer, turned into more of an adventure than we'd anticipated. The older ones had a tent, a nice big one, with a zipper room divided in the middle for privacy. The baby slept with us in the trailer in his portable crib, and our toddler slept outside the door in a covered canvas room with a heater. It was precarious. We had to wait until our oldest finished his homework before we could fold the table down and make the bed we slept on. But children love adventure and camping, and so we went with that story.
It was to be temporary, idea born in the warm, early Fall, and by Thanksgiving, we'd enjoy a nice turkey dinner in the new home. After all, the structure was there, windows were in, but there were no walls, was no heat and no power or water. Just a few weeks of interior work to complete and we'd have a new comfortable house.
Our restored Victorian in Sebastopol was sold. We were waiting for a group of investors, who had purchased other properties from us, to pay us the large lump sum on an installment sale. We were continually assured it was coming, got numerous calls from the Title Co. asking all the right kinds of questions, like payoff figures and such, our conversations with the “group” were upbeat and happy that we would be in our new home soon.
And then all of a sudden, nothing. As a matter of fact, they stopped returning our calls completely. Finally we got the news: they had spent the money leveraging to buy something else that was such a good deal, they'd risk a lawsuit with us to go ahead with that other project. And they knew we were not very strong, financially, to be able to fight them. They owned our property, collected all the rents, and paid us nothing.
I'll never forget sitting down in the trailer, nursing my son, and wondering to myself how I'd gotten talked into this mess. We had four kids, including a newborn. Living in a trailer and a tent. All our money spent (huge lesson there on not counting your chickens), counting on very wealthy investors who owned city blocks in Marin and San Francisco (another lesson there about who you play with and watch when you get your wish), who changed their mind without regard for us or our family.
It all turned out okay. After 18 months and a lawsuit we were forced to borrow money from my parents to file, we prevailed. We did get paid back in full. Several people nearly lost their real estate licenses over the fraud against us. But during those long 18 months, we also survived as a family, and it motivated us to make some changes in the way we made decisions. Yes, you can call me stupid right now. But the lessons were life-changing, just as the experience of it was.
So what does this have to do with a crystal goblet?
I took the kids to San Francisco that year to look at the Christmas decorations, and to have hot chocolate, as was the custom in our family. Christmas Carol was playing, and indeed, I sort of felt like the Bob Cratchit family with lots of kids (all healthy, thankfully), celebrating Christmas with a lump of coal in my stocking. We walked into Neiman Marcus, which to this day is a store I still love, looking at the beautiful tree that used to be the City of Paris.
We used the rest room upstairs, which was right beside the credit office. I inquired as to the status of what I assumed was a closed account, and found out that was not the case. “No, Mrs. Hamilton, you have unused credit of $5000.”
We didn't spend nearly that. But it did save our Christmas. We bought toys, decorations and Christmas clothes, and slyly purchased gifts for each other. I spent the whole day there helping the kids buy things for each other and their grandparents.
You can say what you want about my money management. I'm guilty as charged. I've learned a lot since then. But that Christmas, I felt like I was overcoming the poverty of my circumstances. There just had to be a way, and I found one.
Before we left, I bought one extravagant thing for myself: the green crystal goblet. It has been my prized possession, to remind me, whether I drink water, eggnog or wine or juice out of it, that there are miracles out there. Sometimes you have to just make them up.
As Tiny Tim says:
God bless us, every one!
Well, it sure feels like Christmas when I listen to my beautiful book trailer, performed by my awesome narrator, J.D. Hart. And yes, that's his voice too. I couldn't be more excited bringing this story to you!!
Enjoy. We are live on KDP, Audible/iTunes and in print.
Posting a few things I enjoy listening to at Christmas. Love you all. May the spirit of Christmas stay in our hearts forever…
A special tribute from Scandanavia.
Two Steps, my favorite group, any time.
Two Steps, Thomas Bergersen – Benedictus (Two Steps From Heaven)
New Life, Thomas Bergersen
Thomas Bergersen – Colors of Love
The Breathless Choir (ad), but beautiful message
Christmas Piece, Thomas Bergersen.
The Breathless Choir (ad), but beautiful message (worth listening to again).
I have so many beautiful pictures I've taken from past trips to Brazil, Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, and parts in between, and because everyone is so busy this time of year, just thought I'd send some eye candy and a short blog today. Sorry I'm late.
This year we didn't take our winter cruise. Last two times for long sea voyages were hard, especially hard on my husband. But both of us came home and were sick for nearly a month afterward. So, I longingly post some yummy pictures of our last two big ones, and a memory of one of the ones we took when the kids were little.
Spending Christmas away from home is always filled with an assortment of good and bad memories, sort of like a Christmas stocking: some things you love, some things you'll throw away, some things you'll consume, some things you'll quietly tuck away for later or re-gift, and some things you'll keep with you forever.
When we were pregnant with our first, we decided to go to Hawaii when I was nearly 8 months along. I had never been. I will never forget that feeling, driving (like my husband liked to do then, and still does), like a bat out of hell, up the highway to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The BeeGees were playing How Deep Is Your Love, which was still a new song at the time. We were holding hands, looking forward to the change that would ever effect our lives, and the miracle of new life, and incredibly thankful we had created a new little one. The family wasn't in favor of this Christmas vacation, but we knew that from that year on, our Christmases would forever be altered by the sound of children in our household. Every time I hear that song, I think of that afternoon, back before I knew anything at all about parenting (the joys and pain) and what the future would hold for us all.
|Miracle healings at Christmas|
Another memorable vacation at Christmas was a trip we took in the early 1990's to the Caribbean. We were to be on board ship to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A cruise line ship thought they were having a heart attack on board, and since the Captain couldn't raise anyone on an island port, drove the huge cruise ship up on the shore and beached it. Turned out the man wasn't having a heart attack, but had heartburn.
But our ship had to go retrieve the passengers and take them back to Florida. Problem was, we were already in the airport in Aruba, on a stopover. So they flew us to St. Lucia. I will never forget sitting in a sundress and flip flops on Christmas Eve, listening to an impromptu children's choir singing to us with a colorful Caribbean flair. Some of those kids were so into it, they got us all jumping around to carols such as Away In A Manger and Silent Night, and Oh Come All Ye Faithful, songs I certainly had never heard sung that way before. It was certainly something I will never forget.
Fast forward to our wandering the streets of Spain, Italy and Brazil. Well, what is there to say, but enjoy all the pictures.
I hope your travels at Christmas are fun, filled with warmth and love, family and memories. It is a celebration of a child's birth, and that new birth bringing with it love and peace to the whole world. It is a love story, after all.