Friday, November 26, 2010

In the Christmas Spirit

I put myself through college and grad school by working in bookstores. Some day I should write a book about it. All the ridiculous questions. ("Do you have A Hundred Years of Solid Food?" All the silly customers. ("Do you have that book with the red cover?")

But working retail during the Christmas season has a way of making you hate Christmas. When I stopped managing bookstores I told myself that I'd never set foot in a store between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the most part, I've been able to keep that vow. I'm almost always done with my shopping by T-day. This year I'm not but I've got an easier task. For the first time ever were drawing names for Christmas rather than everybody buying gifts for everybody else. To which I can only say "thank goodness!"

For one thing we really can't afford to spend a lot. For another, I really don't want more crap from my family. Typically the crap in question goes from my mom's house (where we open gifts) into my car. The car pulls into my garage, we open the trunk, take out the crap, and it goes immediately into the Salvation Army bag. It never even makes it into the house.

Husband and I have vowed to cut back on each other -- which makes me sad as I like nothing better than buying him gifts. But being broke means I can't spoil him the way he deserves.

But I'm already getting into the Christmas mood, which is rare for me. We're going to get our tree this weekend. I've already ordered a few small things for Husband. Our neighbors spent the afternoon putting up lights so from where I sit I can already see a little bit of holiday cheer.

And the first Christmas card arrived today. It's from the shelter where I volunteer and one thing they do, which I love, is that the cards are signed by about 5 of the employees. It's not an impersonal card it has little hand-written notes from the heads of various departments so it says things like "thanks for your work in the kitten nursery" or "it was great to see you at the last adoption fair." So it makes it feel like they know who I am and that my work is actually appreciated.

That, plus leftovers from yesterday's yummy dinner at my brother's, has put me in a very happy mood.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Pilgrim’s Progress

In the childhood oddness of growing up in Silver Creek was the annual Thanksgiving pageant. Unlike the all-inclusive Christmas festivities where all the local churches participated, the Thanksgiving pageant was all Our Lady of Angels.

Which is weird, because the pilgrims weren’t Catholic. But Father Sheehy decided to opt it as an OLA holiday and so the pageant was born. Father Sheehy didn’t actually claim that the pilgrims were Catholic, but he did rewrite history somewhat to have them saying the Hail Mary every time someone turned around.

I was in 7th grade and really wanted to be one of the Indians. Which meant, of course, that I was cast as 4th Pilgrim from the Left. In retrospect, considering that the whole event was about as politically correct as a Nuremberg rally, I am so glad that no blackmail photos exist of me as an Indian. But back then I was pissed. The Indians had all the fun. They got to whoop around and say things like “White man need food. We give cranberry sauce.” No….really….that was in the script.

Meanwhile, as a pilgrim, my sole contribution to the event consisted of a lot of nodding as the boys had all the good lines. Other than that, nothing except an itchy costume that smelled like last year’s pilgrim and was so tight at the collar that it left a red line around my neck when I finally took it off. I also had the requisite white pilgrim hat and black shoes with buckles.

I woke up Thanksgiving day wanting nothing more than to watch the balloons in the Macy’s parade on TV and was immediately roped in to my mother’s usual holiday panic. Every year she’d by some poor turkey the size of a Volkswagen and every year she’d have no clue how long to cook it. It would be 9 am and she’d be there with her arm up a turkey butt shoving stuffing into it and telling us not to fill up on corn flakes as dinner would be early. In her mind, nobody should be allowed to eat from noon on Wednesday until Thanksgiving dinner itself. And, given her cluelessness on turkey cooking, that dinner could be anywhere from 1 pm to 10 pm, depending upon when she panicked and put the bird in. Invariably she’d look at the turkey at some point, typically two hours before she thought it would be done, and pronounce the turkey cooked. Then we’d all be shanghaied into frantically mashing potatoes, making gravy and, of course, opening a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup for the dreaded Green Bean Surprise Casserole with Canned French’s Onion Rings on Top. I lived in fear of this dish every year. I still do. Oh yes, and the last thing on the table was always canned cranberry sauce. The kind where you can see the rings of the can on it when you tip it into the dish.

That year I’d hoped pilgrim duty would get me out of KP. But the 47-pound turkey was upsetting mom’s delicate equilibrium, which meant all hands on deck. I was set to peeling potatoes – not wanting to point out to my already mad mother that we wouldn’t be boiling them for at least another four or five hours. But I was able to snag the one seat at the kitchen table that afforded a view of the TV in the living room so I did get to see Smokey the Bear float along Broadway. But I couldn’t hear the marching bands – just mom muttering to herself weird alchemy about poultry pounds, oven temps, and timing. When she was so distracted by advanced math that she couldn’t pour on the guilt, I told her I needed to get into costume and head down to the church. She nodded. I ran.

I would have preferred to put on my costume at OLA, but it was a two-people job and I’d rather get help from Kathleen or Diane rather than one of the church ladies. They always smelled like dead flowers and I was vaguely afraid of them.

Diane was looking for an excuse to get out of celery chopping (celery being the only fresh vegetable anywhere near our Thanksgiving table). So she volunteered to tie me into my pilgrim suit and walk with me to the church. But she lied about the church bit. As soon as we were out the door she dumped me to go flirt with Keith Vandersloot and I was left to walk the few blocks to the church alone. Ridiculous in my pilgrim costume.

Old people smiled. Everyone who was in school with me but not in the pageant laughed. I tried to swallow in my tight collar and found myself daydreaming of wild ad-libs during the play. I had a big crush Timmy Ryan who played the Indian chief and envisioned myself saying “Screw the Hail Mary, I’m running off with Chief Blue Eyes Like the Sky in Spring. (OK, he was just called “Indian Chief” in the program, but Timmy did have great eyes.

Mrs. Murchison was, as usual, in her garden and told me I looked just like Priscilla Alden. Which confused me because I thought she meant I looked like Vicky Templeton (the bitch), who was playing Priscilla in our show. And I looked nothing like her.

Shannon Carey was sympathetic enough to my plight to not say anything when she saw my pilgrim self walking down the street – but I did hear her laugh as I went by. And even one of Silver Creek’s police cars slowed down, perhaps making sure I wasn’t hiding a bootleg turkey under that black dress.

By the time I got to OLA I felt like an idiot and had no good thoughts about Father Sheehy, Thanksgiving and, especially, the pilgrims. The pilgrims were all idiots who didn’t know how to dress and who ruined a perfectly good day by giving us canned cranberries and making small children put on silly costumes to recite embarrassing lines.

Not even the thought of pie (Sara Lee, of course) could redeem the day for me.

But then I saw the god that was Timmy Ryan. And even though he looked wild and romantic in his Indian costume, he also seemed to be as uncomfortable as I. Our eyes met over the baptismal fount. “This is it,” I thought. “This ridiculous costume will be worth it if it finally brings Timmy and I together as we should be.” But all he said was “hey” before walking on and talking to…..Vicky Temple (the bitch).

Sigh….there’s really nothing to be thankful for when you’re in 7th grade.
Thanks Full

Tomorrow is my favorite of the holidays. I am all about the food. Turkey. Cranberry sauce. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Even when my family ruins it, the remnants of goodness are there.

This year is the first time we're doing Thanksgiving someplace other than my mom's. My newlywed brother and new sis-in-law are hosting (which means dinner might actually be good!). I'm in charge of pumpkin bisque and homemade cranberry sauce (with orange juice and cinnamon stick). And I'm going to start the cranberries soon because they actually taste better the next day.

So before I get all caught up in cooking, I wanted to say thank you to you all.

Thanks for reading, even when I'm dull. Even when my dyslexia is so bad that I'm incomprehensible. Even when I haven't posted for a week or two because life intervenes.

Thanks for commenting, for making me feel like my words aren't just disappearing into the ether. For the ego boosts and the laughs and the thoughtful words that never fail to make my day.

Thank you for your words. Most of you have blogs that inspire and amuse me, make me think or teach me something new, make me laugh or make me think. You are all of you amazing people.

I wish you and all that you love a wonderful Thanksgiving. May your turkey be moist and may the company be good.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Sorry About the Smallpox

Tuesday marks my 10th annual Thanksgiving week Native American Music special. Join me from 5:30-8 pm (Pacific time) to hear a mix of traditional and contemporary indigenous music from a variety of First Nations artists.