Snapshot. n. 1. a casual photograph made typically by an amateur with a small handheld camera. 2. an impression or view of something brief or transitory. < a snapshot of life back then >
When I think of the Christmases of my childhood they present themselves in snapshots. Ones that I’d like to pull out and share with you. So let’s put Bing Crosby on the Victrola, grab a cup of Ovaltine, and have a seat on the davenport. . . .
I was a child of the 1960s in suburban Detroit. When I was five all I wanted was what every other little girl did. . . Chatty Cathy. She had a blonde bob and blue eyes, just like me, and such pretty clothes. Back then our names were even spelled the same. And, after all, she loved me and wanted to play with me. . . which I knew for certain because she told me so! Would Santa come through? The anticipation was torturous. Sleep eluded me that long night. As Christmas 1963 dawned I tiptoed down the stairs. . . peeked around the landing. . . and could finally breathe when my wondrous eyes met hers. Yes, she had made the trip down the chimney, and I was happy beyond belief.
(It's a different doll in the photo. . . sadly we never got a photo of me with her).
My dad was a young finance executive at Pontiac Motor in the 60s who worked far into the nights and most Saturdays, yet he always made time for Christmas activities. After taking a v-e-r-y long time placing the huge colored bulbs on the tree, Dad would finally get out the army footlocker that held our ornaments, the magical trunk that we only saw once a year. Inside the fragile Shiny Brites were wrapped in tissue paper that had been used and re-used so many times that it was as familiar to me as feel of my own hair. Oh how I hoped I would get a bell – or just maybe a teapot – to unwrap! At last Dad pulled out the cardboard boxes with the metallic tinsel. He insisted that we place it on the tree one strand at a time, which I was good at. My mom would throw it on hither-thither, which quickly got her expelled from tinsel duty. Which was okay. Decorating the tree was my time with Dad. . . .
Christmas Eve we went to my dad’s parents’ house. They lived in a humble home in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit similar to South Salt Lake. Russell Clayton was a truck driver, and he and my grandma Dorothy taught Sunday School. Grandpa would get down on the floor and play with us kids with our new Tinker Toys while my grandma and my widowed Aunt Mildred prepared the feast in the kitchen where you bumped into each other if more than two people were in there at a time. Presents from them included puzzles in round tall cans, crocheted slippers with leather soles, pick-up sticks and checker games, and, when I was older, a Bible with a white cover. Because I was unknowing I didn’t like their tiny house much when I was a child, but theirs was the kind of house that I now love to go to estate sales in – with its telltale signs of quiet lives lived with dignity everywhere you look.
Christmas day we went to my mom’s parent’s home. Art and Dorothy Brown lived on 25 acres in Rochester, which might compare to Holladay or Draper. There the adults ate cheese and crackers and Blue Diamond almonds and drank Michelob and watched the Detroit Lions while I sat on the davenport and drank Coke out of 6 ½ ounce green glass bottles and studied the Miles Kimball and FAO Schwartz catalogs.
We had to dress up to go to Grandma Brown’s in our holiday best – I usually donned a wool plaid pleated skirt with a white blouse or a fancy twirly dress. One year when I was around 13 my Aunt Margaret – who wore too much lipstick and smelled like the perfume inserts that came in your department store bill – gave me silky white panties which she made me hold up in front of the entire extended family. Oh. My. Goodness. How could she?! My uncle later divorced her – probably over the incident. After dinner my grandma would pull out a plate of Christmas cookies that she had been baking – and freezing – for months. My favorites were the spritz that she shaped into candy canes and wreaths. She would then return to the kitchen and emerge carrying the plum pudding in what eerily resembled a wedding march or a graduation processional. She would present the sacrificial pudding to my grandfather, who, amid exclamations of wonder from the audience, poured brandy over it – and then TORCHED the thing! Actually he just used a match but it was larger than life to my young eyes. And the grown-ups actually ate the bloody mess. Aargh! “Um, pass the cookies, please?”
My favorite Christmas “snapshot” of all is the one my parents never took with a camera, perhaps because it was so ordinary. Each December night I would lie on the floor near the Christmas tree with only the tree lights on and “those old familiar carols” dancing in my head. I would stare with wonder at the shiny ornaments, my eyes darting from one to another, constantly choosing a new favorite. And I would study the packages, each covered with Santas or poinsettias or holly and tied with bows made by hand by my mother. How many of the tags said “Cathy?” Was my precious doll in one of them? Hurry Christmas, oh hurry fast.
May your holidays be filled with joy
and your home be filled with good junk. . . .
Merry Christmas from fleattitude
Cathie & Jen