About Me

My photo
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Storm Trooper

I'm not unique for having had some bad holiday time life events that slightly color everything about the season for me. It happens. Children grow up, divorces happen, people move away . . . . the way we celebrate can become different for many reasons. The things we feel are worth celebrating can turn 180 degrees. I've written before about having a sharp, jagged boundary defining "before" and "after" in my life. This isn't meant to be a dark post, but I wish to show that my holiday twitchiness stems from serious issues, not just from failing to receive the holiday gift I'd asked for. The dark gorge contains my trip to a hospital with paramedics, large blood transfusions, a surgery and the flaming crash of "before" at precisely 8:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve that year. It took five days for all of that to happen, after a 32-year build-up. Life before did not quietly fade away. It crashed through the astral plane and was destroyed. Nothing was ever the same again. I am not the same.

There! That's it. There's to be no more nattering about the terrible things humans can do to one another, nor am I carrying a crying hankie throughout December any longer. I am so holiday happy, I have been dubbed the Solstice Fairy of Past, Present and Future. But my overarching theme for a post or two is to be Extremely Exaggerated, Extravagant Excessive Excesses at the Holidays - My Own and Others'. I'll ask the reader's indulgence as I will bob and weave through the 1950s to the 2000s. I'll try to be clear about the "when" of things.

The other day in my office, I was reminded how large my extended family is when I said something about my 40 cousins and one of my co-workers nearly passed out. I guess that is a large number of people. And as I'm gathering steam for writing this post, the words that are colliding in every frame of the holiday film that plays in my head are the "e" words - extreme, excessive, exaggerated. Extreme personalities. Exaggerated merriment. Excessive amounts of food, drink and gifts. Exorbitant amounts of time spent by many people year-around preparing for this one Saturnalian snowglobe festival. Three aunts baking for two solid months. Granny-O and four aunts sewing doll clothes every Sunday afternoon of the year. Five turkeys in the ovens at the actual event. I'm thinking 30 pounds of potatoes would be about right.

Sidebar: I've just had a wave of peace wash over me. This holiday excesses theme is one that makes me hinky. I'm going to tell some things that embarrass me and some that hurt and some that are hugely funny. But I'm never neutral about the excesses - at least my own. And I've landed somewhere really nice for the first time ever. Some readers would have seen me reduce my mother to human size recently on the blog. My mother has always defied description, at least by me, and has been HUGE. I wrote with a little angst, and Kass said something in her comments that made me laugh out loud. "Anxious mother." Oh. OK. She was an anxious mother. No more. No less. That's pretty manageable, even by me. And now, after typing only three paragraphs, something has shown itself to me that makes this "excesses" thing manageable. I was set up for it. It's not some aberrant failing of character I invented. It's what was modeled for me, with modern inventions, money, time and my own fertile imagination thrown in across the years. I was a Christmas Nazi because I was born and bred to be one. And I'm reminded again to quiet down, go inside and pay attention when something overwhelms me. Funny how the answers always lie within. I need to practice that. Allow me to share some of the stories.

By the time my cousins and I were old enough to be the hostesses of the family holiday gatherings, there were some big high heels to fill. Granny-O and the aunts cast a long shadow. My aunt Irene really did make 43 different kinds of Christmas cookies, brought them to the family celebration to be enjoyed, and sent each family home with a clean shoebox full of them. Granny-O and the sewing aunts made Barbie and other doll clothes in sufficient numbers that our dolls got complete wardrobes from "Santa". I recognize that Barbie is rather magnificent in bodily proportion, but I submit that sewing bras, underwear and slips for her from nylon and lace would challenge even a person comfortable with a sewing machine - those were some tiny pieces of lingerie, and never a stitch out of place. By the way, there were 28 of us who owned Barbies to be outfitted at any given Christmas. I'm sure there were some wonderful gifts for the boys, too. I just wasn't very interested in what they got. Gary always got pajamas and clothes, and I imagine the other boys getting Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys. Something like that.

I think I'll close out this first holiday excesses post talking about my Aunt Ruth - the Queen Bee of the womenfolk. Ruth was Granny-O's first child and she was revered by every sibling and every niece and nephew. That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Amber's generation of children all revered her, too. Ruthie was a "classy" girl. She shopped at Woolworth's for the things Granny-O didn't make for her and she looked like a million bucks. She ran off at 18 to New York City where she worked first as an au pair girl and later formed an attachment to the actor, Robert Taylor. She returned at about age 30 and proceeded to have two marriages and a good life. I don't remember much about her first husband - I believe they divorced in the 1950s. Andy was her husband we all regarded as our uncle and they were popular at family gatherings. Although they never had children, each of them knew how to interact with children, from babies through teenagers. Aunt Ruth talked to 16-year-old girls about sex and Andy wanted to know what it was like to smoke pot. They talked to us as if we were real people. No wonder we loved them!

Dear Ruthie's excess is one that will make the reader grin, I believe. For Ruthie's obsession was to roll $1 bills all year long. Why? Ruth and Andy didn't give tangible gifts. They gave money. When I was a child, the amount was the princely sum of $10 per person. Every person in every family. When Amber was a child it was $50 per person. Ruthie gave cost-of-living increases! However, the gift of money was always given in some unusual way. Whether one received $10 or $50 or whatever the amounts in between the years, the money was presented in $1 bills, rolled tightly and individually and disguised in the presentation. Ruthie selected her "theme" every New Years Day and spent the year putting the gifts together. The secret of the theme was sacrosanct. I don't believe it was ever once discovered in advance. Various cousins would ply Ruthie with wine and try to niggle it out of her. Uh-uh. We never found out.

Just some of Ruthie's Greatest Hits:

4. Tootsie Roll dollars - she wrapped Tootsie Roll wrappers around each dollar and tucked the dollars in among the actual miniature Tootsie Rolls - not the shortest, stubby ones. The ones that would be just about the same size as a rolled up dollar. Andy liked eating the Tootsie Rolls to free up wrappers for the dollars. On Christmas, each kid and adult got a big basket filled with Tootsie Rolls and dollars. It made a kid damned careful not to swing her basket too hard, thereby ejecting some of the contents.

3. Golf pencil dollars - yep, wrapped those $1 bills in yellow paper and tossed them in with the pencils.

2. Pasta dollars - Ruthie rolled the dollars in their original state and presented them in a glass canister filled with green dried pasta.

1. Potpourri dollars - my personal favorite. I love to decorate with decorative hat boxes and I know where to find them. Ruthie began to hit me up about my hat box resources in February. She was 80. She needed more than 100 hat boxes, so the light came on pretty quickly for me. I was 49. I could keep a straight face. I don't need to know everything there is to know. That year, she wrapped the dollars in pastel, filled those hat boxes with loose potpourri, and tossed in the dollars. One was careful transferring the potpourri from the hat box to glass containers!

The tinsel orgy was roaring and the really good Santa my mother had hired was soon to arrive. Ruth asked if I'd go out on the porch with her while she had a cigarette. I don't care for smoking, but I can stand downwind to spend time with Ruthie. We bundled up and I carried her glass of wine. On the porch, she broke it down, "Limes, did you figure it out about the hat boxes?" I struggled, folks. Finally I told her I had and she asked why I didn't say anything. "Didn't want to take it from you, Ruthie. Some things are better not to know in advance." She told me I was the best one of "the bunch". She told me my kid was the best one of "the new bunch".

That was the holiday season before my "before" went away. One year. Ruthie died of lung cancer 18 months ago, after a long, good life. Smoking will do that to a person. This is not a sad ending. This is an ending with a huge measure of gratitude for fine things I have enjoyed in this life and fine, excessive people I've known and loved. They taught me well. "I'm Limes and I'm a recovering Christmas Nazi. It's been 8 holiday seasons since I did anything that would rate a headline."

In my ears right now: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun ~ Cyndi Lauper. I still love it. I watched the original video on Vevo and I danced, too. I wish I'd had on a skirt so I could snap it around like Cyndi does. I sported the pink bumper sticker for years until it rotted off of the car. If I found a new one today, I'd buy it and fly it.

Something that charmed me: When I was 18, my Aunt Ruth loaned me the first volume of Ralph G. Martin's biography of Lady Randolph Churchill. It ignited me. I read it over and over again. I learned about Jennie Churchill and her famous son. I absorbed everything I could about life in Victorian England. I took notes and read biographies of other people in the Churchills' circle. The one book set so many things in motion for me, including a deep hunger to explore England. That would come, and Winston Churchill's country home, Chartwell, is where I would see some of Jennie Churchill's belongings on display. I am sorry to report I touched a leather book cover and a wool jacket. After I'd read the book a number of times I tried to return it to Ruthie. "You keep it honey. I enjoyed it, but I can see it means much more to you."


  1. Excess seems to be a common theme tonight. Along with Brits and their culture. A fine post Limes. Coming up on a turning point in your life. I almost posted a turning point in my life but decided to wait until after Christmas for that. WV-Bcaryld, I've never been much of a rum drinker but I have been bcaryld and Bacalled on occasion.

  2. Hey, Tag, we did strike some common ground, didn't we? I also have some things to write about that I've put in abeyance. It's really all I can do to get across December without any bumps in the road. No need to put out the stories that are the most prickly. They'll still be there poking at me in the new year. I need to go read your post and comment.

    By any chance was that Bogeyed and Bacalled?

  3. Are all 40 FIRST cousins? If you also have second or third cousins in there, then it's not that unusual.

    I liked Christmas excess much more as a kid, when someone else was footing the bill.

  4. Hi, Kirk ~ yep, first cousins. My mom has 11 siblings. Ruthie had no kids, but eveyone else did. It's easy for 11 people to produce 40 more, apparently.

    Wait until you read about some of my adult holiday excesses. I'm much happier being excessively unexcessive in this part of life [at least regarding the holidays]!

  5. perhaps a quote from st. augustine:
    moderation in all things, including moderation.

  6. Ha, SOMH! VERY good. I would not want to be excessive in my moderation. I gave excessive up. At least regarding the holidays.

  7. There are two ways to feel: guilty, or deprived.


  8. OK, Kirk, Diet Dr. Pepper spewed across the surface of the desk. That is GOOD! I choose guilt! "One order of guilt, please. Super sized."

  9. Was Bog-eyed one of the WV words? I meant Bacardi'd and Bacal'd. Here's looking at you kid. Oh laude! (wv) you sure know how to throw a party.

  10. Ha, Tag, I was just playing with Bogey and Bacall. They DO call me a party girl. That's because I am so excessive.

  11. lately its been about deprivation. I mean to correct that in the new decade.

  12. Don't deprive yourself, please, Tag. And don't deprive others of the gift of you.