Now that I'm Modern Orthodox Jewish, I am completely dissociated from Christmas. However, there was a time in my life when I actually enjoyed Christmas and all it had to offer. It gave the whole month of December a certain "feel." We would go to our cousins' house and the whole place would be decked out in Christmas gear. They had a really nice (huge) tree taking up part of their living room. (Their house represented Christmas so well that it was weird to go there any other time of the year, when all the decorations were gone.) They had relaxing Christmas tunes playing in the background the entire time. And then there was the food. Dinner was turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, etc. I don't think the items ever varied from year to year. The best part was dessert. Our cousin had my late maternal grandma's cheesecake recipe and would make it with cherries on top. There were Frango mint cookies and brownies, as well. Later, we'd have our gift exchange while sitting around the tree and listening to relaxing Christmas music. On the way home, we'd be all bundled up in the car on a snowy night, passing by all the houses with twinkling lights. There was something so peaceful about the drive back to our house. (Excerpted from my personal blog, December 23, 2011)
While Christmas doesn't have a "feel" for me anymore, most of our readers and authors are very enthusiastic about the holiday. (You'll see this throughout "Holiday Month.") When it comes to Wade Rouse, our Go-to-Gay, he knows just how to make it merry and bright!
When I was a child, a drunken Santa Claus always chugged a six-pack of Hamm’s as he entered our house, yelling, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
It didn't take me long to realize my family holidays would always be more Martini and Rossi than Currier and Ives.
The drum major of our family’s hideous holiday parade has always been my father – a lifelong engineer – who used to bury our Easter eggs in order to make the hunt “more of a challenge” for us kids.
Every Thanksgiving, my father still leaves a fully stuffed turkey on top of the refrigerator for hours, until it reaches, as he likes to say “room temp.”
Ever since I can remember, my father, like the logical engineer he is, has always believed in a one-color Christmas, preferring that everything – garland, ornaments, outdoor lights, candles, tree skirt – be monochromatic. We always had to choose as children: All red, all green or all blue. My dad was partial to all blue, so every few years, our house was basked in an eerie shade of Dodger blue, making our Christmas pictures look as if someone had spilled Nyquil over them, our faces glowing, like Ozarkian Smurfs.
Except for Consumer Reports, my father has never been much of a reader. Reading books, like shopping, is too fanciful, too frivolous, too fun.
The fact that I am a full-time author continues to baffle him, almost as if his seed helped produce a unicorn, a magical creature that has no place in the real world. When he visits and I head upstairs to “work” at my laptop, he muses, “Can’t believe you make money staying at home.”
“I’m like a hooker, dad,” I joke as explanation.
“At least I know what they do,” he says. “And how they get paid.”
Trying to holiday shop for my father is equally as aneurism-inducing. If I spend too much and indulge him, it’s seen as an extravagance. If I try to pick out a shirt, he says he’ll “never wear it to Wal-Mart.”
After my mother’s passing, Gary and I began to receive gift cards from my father, yanked sans sentimentality from his wallet on Christmas morning, for odd amounts: $32.91 to Lowe’s, or $41.67 to Target. When asked why, he said, “I saw a ceiling fan you might like for that exact amount.”
This, as you can imagine, makes Christmas a challenge.
My mom was the life of the party, the fun one to shop for, the one who pacified our visits like a human Switzerland. My mom loved to read. She loved to read me, especially. The fact that she was able to live long enough to see my memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, featured on NBC’s “Today” show fulfilled her dreams.
This past year, in honor of my mom, I decided to give my father a couple of gifts from the heart, instead of the head. Among other things, I framed an old photo of the Rouse clan, my father and I being the only remaining survivors from our original family of four. I also gave him a copy of my latest memoir.
The morning after Christmas, my dad – as was his routine – rose early to make a pot of Folgers, forgoing my fabulous, free-trade, whole bean, Costa Rican dark espresso blend. And I rose, too, in order to light a fire in our knotty pine cottage’s woodburning stove, knowing I needed to keep my dad warm considering he would get chilly in hell.
We retrieved cups of coffee, and my father sat down next to me, holding my book and a pen.
“I get it,” he said softly, suddenly. “I get you.”
I looked up, and he was holding out my memoir. “Would you autograph it?”
“Dad,” I said, stunned, near tears. “Really, that’s not necessary.”
“No, it is,” he said. “I want to remember the best gift I’ve ever received … which is you.”
We sipped coffee in the quiet after-glow of Christmas – just the two of us – having survived not only the turkey from the day before and all the holiday dysfunction, but also life itself, surviving long enough, thankfully, to finally be able to read one another clearly.
|Treats for Santa!|
The writings of bestselling humorist Wade Rouse – called “wise, witty and wicked” by USA Today and the lovechild of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris – have been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E! and People.com. His latest memoir, It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine (reviewed here) launched in paperback February 1st from Broadway, and he is creator and editor of the humorous dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best from America’s Favorite Humorists (NAL). The book features a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk, essays by such beloved chick lit authors as Jane Green, and 50 percent of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States. His first memoir, America's Boy, has been re-published by Magnus Books for paperback and Kindle. For more, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook or Twitter.