Mamacita says: My father had an 8mm movie camera.
Every Christmas morning, he would sloooowly set up the monster lights that burned so hot and so brightly, they half-blinded us and heated up the whole house.
Then he would slooowly position himself with the camera, so as to get the best shot of his children running into the glittering magical room.
Then he would put the camera down and go get some toast and a bottle of RC.
Then he would come back into the room and sloooowly pick up the camera again, focus it, and finally, finally, he would say,
Okay, kids, come on in!
And four kids, pumped as high on anticipation and magic as kids can be, came running into the room. We stopped short at the sight: that huge sparkling tree, and whatever Santa Claus had brought it, displayed (unwrapped) around the wrapped presents that had been tantalizing us for two or three days. (My parents put up the tree a few days before Christmas, and took it down the day after.)
Everything we got was always a complete and total surprise. We never snooped into closets or under beds, like some kids did, because, well, why would we do that? It all came from Santa Claus, and he brought it all fresh and new on Christmas Eve, straight from his workshop in the North Pole! It had nothing whatsoever to do with my parents; all they did was unlock the front door before they went to bed, so Santa could get into the house.
We didn’t have a chimney, and that worried us ’till Mom explained that Santa just came in through the front door of houses that had no chimneys, and that he was glad not to have to balance the sleigh and reindeer on the roof sometimes.
Dad was as much of a little kid as we were, at Christmas. He would lie underneath the tree, shaking and feeling every present, and guessing its contents. He was good at it, too. When we were a little older, we used to put marbles in his present so it would make a noise and possibly throw him off the track. It didn’t usually work. He knew the sound of marbles rolling around wrapped socks.
When Dad was a little boy, they were poor, poor unto destitution, but his mother usually managed one present for each of her many children at Christmas. One year, however, there just wasn’t anything to be had. On Christmas morning, my dad found a pair of hand-me-down overalls under the tree.
He was just a tiny little boy, and he went out on the back steps and cried. His father, who was a terrible mean violent man, went out there and found him. Dad cringed, expecting the worst, but instead, his father reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. He gave it to Dad, explaining that Santa had meant it for Dad but had forgotten to put a name on it. Sometimes, the most unexpected things will come from the least likely person.
I think that was why Dad was such a kid at Christmas. When he WAS a kid, there wasn’t much of one.
I think that was why Dad wanted to make it last as long as possible. He made us stand back in the hallway on Christmas morning as long as he could, to make it last longer. I think he also knew that the anticipation is the best part.
Dad had his faults. Who among us doesn’t? Some of his faults were pretty bad, too. But whatever they were, they disappeared at Christmastime, because at Christmastime, he became a little kid with the rest of us.
This meant Mom had the burden of being the planning adult, but we didn’t realize any of the family politics at the time. And that, too, was as it should be.
When Dad died, Tim and I took all the dozens and dozens for reels of 8mm film and had them made into VHS tapes for all of us. The tapes even had a soundtrack. They were wonderful. He’s working now on transferring everything to DVD, and after that, I suppose whatever technology rears its awesome head.
When I look at those early tapes, I see my parents, younger than my children, looking for all the world like a couple of teenagers, pretending. Except that they weren’t pretending, they really were a couple of early twenty-somethings who were in charge of our house. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve Day, my favorite day of the year, more favorite even than Christmas Day or Christmas Eve night. Christmas Eve day is a day of action, of baking and last-minute cleaning, of waiting for my children to arrive home, of delivering homemade bread to my aunts and to my cousins and to friends. On Christmas Eve day, the house smells like baking bread and cinnamon and vanilla, and the aromas do not come from candles.
On Christmas Eve night, the preparations and planning cease and the participation and celebration begins. But for me, the real fun of Christmas is these few days right before, because I love the preparation and the planning and most of all, the anticipation. Maybe this is because, even while standing in my new pajamas behind the door in the little hallways with my sisters and my brother, prancing with excitement, I really relished the ‘it’s all still before us’ thing, without realizing what it was.
Now. Slow motion. Four kids in new pajamas running into a magical room where only a few hours before, Santa Claus had been. Christmas dollies, smelling of new untouched plastic. The new-dolly smell is every bit as good as new-car smell!!! Stockings, always with an orange in the bottom because Santa cared about our health, but really to take up a lot of room. Slow motion, because our memories so often are. That’s why movie flashbacks sometimes begin in slow motion. When Dad would bring out the 8mm projector and start showing films, it was a genuinely thrilling thing. That was US, up there on the glittery screen! Watching those films helped prime our memories.
Nowadays, a child’s entire life is on film, but back then, only “moments” were filmed.
Real life goes FAST. Let’s all try to see it clearly the first time around, so we don’t have to see only in memory’s slow motion what we should have seen as it happened. Every second is a “moment.” Look at each other and what’s happening so you can remember; let that library of videos be a memory-primer, not a file cabinet of toilet training.
Merry Christmas, dear precious Blog-friends. Merry Christmas, and may your lives be full of wonder and enchantment on this day, and always.