It is Christmas Day and even though it isn't a "Jewish Holiday" it is a holiday of some massive proportions. I couldn't help musing on some of my early Christmases ........yes, I used to get Christmas presents....Mamma would leave a neat pile of presents in the corner of my bedroom which I would fall upon when I woke up before dawn and spend hours playing with or fondling quietly so as not to wake the grownups. I remember the year I got the game Chinese Checkers with all of those beautiful colored little balls.......great fun..........and a wonderful white rabbit collar and muff set....( Bunnies of the world forgive me,.....at the age of 5 I didn't think about the rabbit part...) so I certainly can't claim deprivation but all holidays had a strange unsettling and ominous undercurrent of danger......
As I washed kitty dishes today and pondered Christmases Past, I noticed that I WAS feeling a bit lonely....it's just me and the cats plus a resident hummingbird (more on that later). However, no self pity here......I accept loneliness gratefully. I have always contended that I would rather be lonely than stuck, even for the moment, with someone I didn't like and/or trapped in some situation I loathed. There is something clean and pure about unfulfilled yearning, wanting, craving, desiring that is totally absent in wretched situations where your wish may be granted but the reality turns out to be not really what you wanted after all and the only thing you really want is to be back where you were before you wished the wish. When I was very young and didn't know any better I would occasionally peer at a pleasant, peaceful, looking house across the street and wonder what it would be like to eavesdrop on some other family celebrating a holiday. That was long before I found out that all families are to some degree dysfunctional and before I realized what a bonanza I had been granted in being a part of the fantastic family I belonged to.
I developed a strange philosphy about holidays very early because of my mishuginna father.....a brilliant but crazy, tortured and fragmented soul who, for some unknown reason, imagined himself to have been kidnapped as a baby from Royalty somewhere and forced to live his young life in shameful bondage with a nice, ordinary, dysfunctional middle class Jewish Family in Pittsburgh yet, of all places. Since I don't know of any Jewish royalty, this meant that he had to reject his Jewishness and his simple Stern and Wimmer ancestry and morph from being Fred Stern to being that exalted personage, Frederick Wainwright Stearns. Lest you think I am exagerating even the teeniest bit, let me assure you that I am NOT. The details are so sad they could break your heart or so monstrous as to make you very angry. As soon as he could he went about changing his name and, while he did not totally reject his family, he only acknowledged them as being in any way related to him on our infrequent visits to the Grandparents and sister Esther in Pittsburgh. (Brother Jerry was already on the shitlist for some misdeed before I was born.....I do not think I ever met him.) The rest of the time Pappy was literally somebody else. He did enormous research on the various Stearns families around the country. (After his death I found file folders stuffed with volumes of information about several Stearns families, one of which at one time owned a good part of California), and he adopted himself into one which, if not Royal, was at least rich and WASPy. Furthermore he managed to not only meet them but insinuate himself into their midst convincing them that he was a third cousin twice removed or something of one of their patriarchs. He proudly reported to me near the end of his life that, while attending some soiree at their mansion his hostess hugged him and said ,"My goodness, Rick (oh, I forgot, in his other world he ceased being Freddie and became Rick)......"My goodness, Rick", she murmured, "So glad you could join us, but, I must say, I would never have recognized you...... you surely don't look anything like your father." As he reported this to me his face positively glowed and he cast a look at me that combined both vast triumph and only one tiny crumb of shame.
Anyway, to return to the point of my story, all of the holidays somehow exacerbated his discontent as he realized that, instead of celebrating royally in a mansion, he was forced to submit to having a delicious but common meal with cousin Ruth and Al (Ruth being the grandchild of the oldest Blumenthal son, Jake)......and this situation stoked the furnace of his rage to the point that he would ignite and explode without even needing a spark to kindle rampant disaster. Living with a combustible father was not easy, I can tell you......as holidays approached my dread increased exponentally because a vile and violent scene was inevitable.......at best, he would refuse to participate or even take us to the site of the holiday meal (My Mother and I would somehow make our way ourselves with difficulty but secretly grateful) and at worst he WOULD take us.....gritting his teeth, reluctant, simmering nay already bubbling with fury so all one could do was pray that the explosion, when it came, would be a survivable one and no one would be killed or permanently maimed from being in the same room with flying turkey parts. Holidays were fraught with danger.........is it any wonder that I luxuriate in peace and quiet and give fervent thanks for a day when the cranberry sauce and the giblet gravy does not fly around the room and festoon the walls, but stay placidly in their bowls until eaten with the rest of the holiday bounty. Sigh.
Happy Holidays everyone!!
The New Yorker covers: July 7 & 13, 2008
9 hours ago