Posted in Christmas Eve, Holidays, writing

Welcoming the Doldrums

Now that the holidays are over, we coast into the doldrums of January, February, and March, that long stretch with no holidays or long weekends (well, some of you get Presidents Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) that feel like they go on for six months, rather than three. Spring break looms for those with kids. For those without, life will go on pretty much as usual.

And I’m so there for it.

I have a complicated relationship with the end-of-year holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. There’s a melancholy to them threading through the mirth. People who had happy childhoods have unhappy adulthoods, forever trying to recapture the joy of those happier years.

I had a large-ish family: Mom, Dad, and four sisters. In general, Christmas was a magical time, as indeed all of winter was for me. What child doesn’t love playing in the snow? And we got a lot of it. Holidays in our home were exciting and fun, even though for most of my childhood years we were quite poor. Mostly I remember Christmas lights glowing warmly on snowy evenings, electric candles in each window of the house. In those days nobody was doing those garish, hideous displays with tens of thousands of lights, trying to rival Disney’s Electrical Parade. There was one house in town that put up a homemade animated tableaus of large, 3-foot-tall elf dolls in working ski lifts, riding around on a carousel (elf-sized), working in Santa’s workshop, and all manner of things. It was a wonder, and it was charming. People came from all over to see it. It was written up in the local paper year after year.

But mostly I remember the warmth of Christmas, a child’s memories of it as magic. We always decorated the tree as a family on Christmas Eve (a tradition of my mother’s Norwegian upbringing), my dad singing “O Tannenbaum” in his baritone voice as he put tinsel and ornaments on the branches my sisters and I were too small to reach; Dad pulling out the old reel-to-reel tape player and cueing up the Christmas music. I will forever associate “The Troika” with my dad. One night when putting the youngest 3 of us to bed, my second-eldest sister (who has an incredible voice) sang “Silent Night”. Even then it made me cry.

I have moments when the music helps. My local classical music station does a 4-day “Festival of Carols” full of ancient music, familiar tunes done well, carols from around the world (the Finnish are some of my favorites), and it’s just glorious to listen to. Shame it’s only 4 days on the regular broadcast frequency (they have a new HD station that starts earlier, but I don’t have an HD radio). Now even the music has lost its spell. It’s been the one thing I’ve looked forward to over the years, the main thing that I could take solace in now that both of my parents are long dead, I’m estranged from most of my sisters, and all my aunts and uncles are gone. I’ve spent many Christmas Eves alone, put up and decorated trees by myself, because even though there was no one else to do it with, it was still a link to those happy days. This year the tree was put up without me, and taken down without me.

Christmas lights no longer cheer me; in fact they leave me cold. Maybe they’re just too pre-packaged and processed for my taste (don’t get me started on the inflatables). As I writer this, there are still a few folks who have their lights up and on even now, after the new year. I see them as I drive to work in the morning, and come home at night. The season just seems to have moved so far away from the gentle family celebration it once was I start to wonder if we’ve simply outgrown the spirit of it in the 21st century. It feels like if you didn’t get a new car for Christmas you’re doing it wrong. Maybe I just want to be a child again. I miss my mom and dad so much, even after all these years. There’s so much family drama and stress now, and most family traditions have gone by the wayside.

So I, at least, am glad the holidays are over, and I welcome the looming doldrums.

Posted in writing

Long Live the Humble Ranch House

Every once in awhile I get to feeling nostalgic for my childhood. Maybe it happens more as we age and spend more time contemplating our mortality, I don’t know. It’s funny the things that will trigger memories and that feeling of wanting to go ‘home’. Things change so quickly now, it’s hard to feel any sense of belonging or roots or community.

Since I’ve started my new job and have been taking the bus, I get a daily trip down memory lane as the bus passes through a well-kept older neighborhood of modest homes. The houses all have immaculate yards, so I suspect they are under some sort of homeowner’s association. But it’s the houses themselves that I love. They’re all small, one-story affairs, but what they have that most modern construction lacks is real charm. I expect most date back to the 1960s, or 1950s judging by the architecture. Can’t you just see Darrin Stevens driving up to this house in Bewitched?

Of course, their house looked like this:

Ok, it’s two-story, but still quite modest by today’s standards. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the show and that time period, here’s a great site with tons of pics from the sets of the house. Oh, the memories! Quick, somebody rewind time.

I didn’t even grow up in a ranch-style house. The house I grew up in in Massachusetts was a three-story (four, if you count the full basement) farmhouse that dated to the 1850s. Sadly I don’t seem to have any photos of it. (I tried to find a picture online, but the Google streetview shows it completely obscured by trees and other foliage now. What a mess).

But anyway, there’s one house in particular that I love more and more every time I go past it. It’s a dark green/brown color, with shutters as interior window coverings, but the thing I really love about it is all the flowers planted around it outside are white. There are roses, hydrangeas, and I don’t know what all else, but all white. It looks a little like the photo below, although the one in the picture is more ornate than the house on my bus route.

I miss when neighborhoods were made up of these kinds of houses. I really REALLY hate the McMansions that populate today’s suburbs. I think they’re cold, unfriendly, uninviting, and I wouldn’t want to spend much time in one, even as a visitor. I’ve known people who own these houses, and I am always distinctly uncomfortable when I visit. These are not welcoming places, there is no warmth. I like to remember the banged up, muddy screen doors that usually lead into the kitchens of houses where my friends lived. You never felt like an outsider or intruder going into their homes.

Seriously, does this say, “Welcome” in any language? I think I’ll redecorate my house in retro 60s colors. I guess I had a happy childhood.