Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bossy Betty Gets All Mushy All Week Over All Things Christmas

Even a pragmatic gal like Betty starts to get a little mushy when those Christmas ornaments are pulled out. Each one is like a seed that has been buried all year in that dark tin in the garage. When I hold it in the warmth of my hand, it blooms with memories until it fills up the tender folds of my heart. Is it any wonder I have to sit down and collect myself by eating chocolate-covered Oreos and drinking Diet Pepsi at least three times while decorating the tree? Oh yes, Betty can get quite mushy over things like this and in this season of sharing, I have decided to ooze all this sentimentality over you as well, like warm minty-flavored toothpaste, so put on the Elvis Christmas CD and prepare to hear about my five favorite ornaments over the course of the next five days.

Today, however, we discuss the canvas upon which these ornaments are hung. I'd like to tell you it's a lush Scottish pine, selected by our sweater-wearing, hearty family one cold and snowy afternoon and felled by the local red-faced tree farmer who bore a striking resemblance to St. Nick and who waved to us as we drove away with our tree tied atop our station wagon. However, it's actually a skinny pre-lit Target special plucked this year from the rafters of the garage by disgruntled family males on a freakishly hot, windy afternoon in December here in Southern California.

I used to insist on a "live" tree and the whole tradition of selecting it. I was frenetic to get the right tree, and I was on high alert for any family member not displaying what I considered to be the proper amount of excitement over the traditions of hanging ornaments, etc. Sensing any sign of less-than-maniacal enthusiasm from others set my holiday Spirit-O-Meter off like an overly-sensitive hotel sprinkling system. I would immediately rain down a torrent of Christmas spirit that would send others running for cover in other rooms while the Christmas Clown continued her reign of red and green terror in the living room, happy Christmas carols blasting from the stereo, oblivious to the fact that her family members had thrown themselves overboard to escape the horrific ride on the Good Ship Christmas Spirit.

I look back now and understand that, far away from extended family, I was determined to carve out my own traditions, and to make the holiday fill in the gaps for all Christmases past and present and not just my own. HOB had his own set of Christmas baggage and would have just preferred to skip the holiday entirely, so I was even MORE determined to make him and everyone around me happy, happy, happy, HAPPY!!!! This, as any psychotherapist will tell you was a monumental task, even for the strangely-energized delusional person. Add children to the mix, and then just call the local mental hospital and ask for the Family Plan.

One year it was clear the tree needed water, so I crawled under the prickly branches and poured the water in the basin, praying that it would not overflow on to the floor. I lay there waiting for the water to settle, listening to Jose Feliciano sing “Feliz Navidad” on the stereo. I was deep under the wide tree so that if anyone came into the room at that moment, they would have flashbacks of scenes from “Little Shop of Horrors.” I lay my face on the cool floor and began to think. It seemed to me that, in our house at least, if you had female organs you were the one to select the tree, nag until the tree got put up, belly-crawl under the tree on a weekly basis to make sure it had water, de-decorate the sucker after the holidays, wrestle it down, drag it out, leaving a trail of water and needles, and then clean up the pine needles for months afterwards.

Jose Feliciano was still singing when I lifted my head up, scraping my scalp on the branches and thought, “This part of Navidad is NOT Feliz.” I extracted myself from beneath the tree and proclaimed, “Basta, Yah! No Mas!” and that year, just after Christmas, I made my way to Target and grabbed the first sad fake tree priced to move. That pre-lit wonder that now stands in our living room. We snap the sucker together, bend out the boughs, hang the ornaments and voila! Bring on the presents.

Here’s the Christmas miracle: What I learned was the fully-loaded and tinseled tree, the five singing wreaths strategically placed all over the house, the plastic Santa and Rudolph in the entryway, and the flashing bells belting out tinny Christmas Carols mean nothing if the Mama of the house is not relaxed and happy. When I calmed down, and stopped resenting all those who were not matching my level of expectation for the holiday, the Munchkins of the village came out, came out, wherever they were and actually picked up decorations and hung them on the tree without being asked to.

So, Betty has calmed down A LOT from past years. Oh, don’t worry. Betty is not getting up on Christmas morning, scratching herself, having a ciggie and a beer and then going back to bed. No, we have all the traditions, the special dinnerware, the stockings on the mantel. And on Christmas morning we gather around that fake tree made out of an oil-derived material with its plastic pine cones and artificial boughs, and we smile at each other with real love.

Tomorrow: We begin our trip down Ornament Alley. Dress appropriately.


Susan said...

you are definitely putting me in to the Christmas spirit, but at my house that means hauling out the 3 foot st. Nick that really looks like a christmas troll. I love him though.

Bossy Betty said...

Oh! I think the St. Nick/Troll sounds great!

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