Pondering the Pavement

December 18, 2014

Savoring It

“Christmas…that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance…a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.” – Augusta E. Rundell

‘Tis the season, or so I’m told. I didn’t receive this announcement via the Town Crier or a band of bubbly Carolers. It’s the Retailers, accosting us door-to-door with their singing circulars, laying claim to the origin of this ideology. They have been preaching the Joys of the Glory of the Season for not only too long but far too soon. I find it a bit overwhelming to wander into a store when summer is still romancing us with beaches and barbeques, only to discover Christmas has already thrown up all over aisle four. Seeing pipe-cleaner trees and the plastic head of a decapitated Rudolf, when I should be eyeing beach blanket bingo cards, does nothing for my already weakened sense of reality.

It is said that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space. While not documented, I am convinced that my neighbor’s home, three blocks down, is just as noticeable. The two-story brick & mortar Vegas Strip Wannabe is a sight best left unseen. Someone really needs to explain to the Home Dwellers that “gaudy” does not refer to anything of a spiritual nature. Every single palm tree surrounding the home is wrapped tightly in multi-colored lights. The dwellers of this electrical Partridge Family Bus clearly loved this stroke of engineering genius so much that they applied the same fetching theme to the posts along the front porch, the mailbox post and even the little wooden fence separating the lawn from any leering passersby. In fact, no slim vertical objects were safe from being encased in those little tiny florescent pokes in the eye. God forbid a lean, lanky telephone repairman would innocently happen upon this place. One can only shudder at his inevitable fate. And, God save us, all of the lights blink. Ouch.

The once normal front lawn now plays host to an inflatable colony consisting of a far-too-larger-than-life Grinch, Frosty the Snowman trapped inside of a snow globe, two largely distorted gift-wrapped boxes and something that I believe is supposed to be either an elf of an anorexic Cabbage Patch Doll. The individual motors join together as one off-key grating, chugging hum. The Grinch bobs to and fro as if trying to escape what I’m sure is hopeless humiliation. The large abstract packages reach for one another, like an old pair of windshield wipers, to only be jerked back in the opposite direction once more. The scrawny Cabbage Elf Thing seems like an afterthought. He’s peering around one of the brightly colored boxes as if praying no one he knows spots him. The one that really freaks me out, however, is Frosty. Here you have a snowman trapped in a large snow globe. In essence, he is being bombarded with bits and pieces of snowmen that, in all probability, he knew. Creepy. And, on the porch roof, there’s an inflatable Santa flying an airplane. One can only assume he’s planning on dive-bombing on the atrocities below.

The entire frame structure of the house is lined in lights. Running, blinking, winking lights. Strands of green flashing bulbs are stretched and tangled within the shrubbery lining the porch. Ribbons snake in and out of the handrails. Two large Nutcracker Soldiers are guarding each side of the front door, scaring away any potential call from Avon. A large silver tree, covered in blue bulbs, stands tall within the frame of the main window. A multi-colored rotating light somewhere out of public view gives me the impression the tree is going through a barrage of radical and rapid mood swings.

To paraphrase, “This isn’t what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I’ve always been a believer in the adage, “Less is more.” Of course, that’s pretty funny coming from someone as over-the-top as I am, but that’s for minds far greater than ours to sort through at a later date. My eyes are always drawn to the delicate, subtle touches. The small home with a lone candle in the window, a diminutive wreath upon the door, the hint of a humble tree peeking through some lace curtains. Something done or given with genuine warmth and sincerity means so much more, don’t you think?

My taste in shirts in the early 80's was a mere glimpse into what was coming down the pike...

My taste in shirts in the early 80’s was a mere glimpse into what was coming down the pike…

My second cousin, Blanche, had a larger than life and, at times, abrasive personality. (This isn’t the time to analyze family traits, either…) She wasn’t exactly ‘for just anybody.’ Like me, you liked her or you didn’t. There was no middle ground when it came to her. I found her wickedly funny. She shot from the hip, made no qualms of who she was, and lived her life with a very clear idea of what was right and what wasn’t.

Blanche, a spinster, didn’t have much in a monetary sense. She sewed quilts to provide for herself. And, let me tell you, her quilts were quite the prize! She did beautiful work. Word of mouth brought her work as she needed it. Of course, she wasn’t overflowing with work. But she had enough to get by. She was a true artisan. Not quite the starving artist but meals could be skimpy from time to time. That is, of course, the time when family and friends would help out. One’s hand reaches for another in need and so on and so on. You get the idea.

Every Christmas we could count on the same present from Blanche. One could set their watch by the welcomed predictability. Each and every year, instead of joining the masses and ordering from catalogues and standing in line at a department store, Blanche would bake homemade Christmas cookies. She filled tins that had once imprisoned countless fruitcakes with her cookies. Honestly, they melted in your mouth. I’m assuming they were nothing but two-thirds butter and one-third sugar. She cut them in the usual holiday shapes: stars, trees and bells. She heavily sprinkled them with red and green sanding sugar—she didn’t slouch on the ingredients by any means. One bite and you could actually hear the granules of sugar crunching between your molars, much to the chagrin of dentists everywhere. Like her quilts, her cookies were top notch and done right.

cookiesSome would say, “Well, that’s all she could afford to give” and just gloss over it. They would be prone to turn away and focus on something else like new clothes, hundred dollar sneakers, or the electronic gadget of the moment. You know what? I’ve lived through 53 Christmases already and, in all honesty, Blanche’s cookies stand out ahead of so many other things that I’ve seen under the tree. Sure, it probably was all she could afford. But, the thing is, she was giving the best. HER best. It came from her heart, her kitchen, her very being. It was a part of her. She shared herself, her blessings, with her family and friends in a very personal way. We should all be so lucky.

Give of yourself, for the betterment of all, this Christmas and each moment afterwards. Then just sit back, prop your feet up, and have a cookie or two. You’ve not only earned it but you’ll know to cherish every…single…bite.

Merry Christmas.

Copyright © 2014, Charles A. Filius

December 1, 2014

Forgive Me Santa for I Have Sinned

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 7:50 am
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For a little holiday fun, I am offering up an excerpt from a short story I am writing and illustrating for publication next year. Enjoy!

Santa Claus scared the crap out of me as a kid. Seriously. While the other kids saw him as a jolly old elf, provider of toys and merriment, I feared him. Why wouldn’t I? His all-seeing eye was a threat that hung over me all year long. Time and time again my parents threatened me with lines like, “You’d better behave! Santa’s watching you!” Even that infernal song warns kids that Santa not only knows who’s been bad and who’s been good, but also that he knows when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake. How creepy is that?

Within that holiday window snuggled between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day my life was no longer my own. No matter where I went, I knew on some level that the chubby chap in red was keeping tabs on my every move. I could just picture him, standing back in the shadows of some dark alleyway, watching me swap lunches with another kid at the bus stop. He’d whip out his handy memo pad and feverishly take notes for his daily report back to my parents.

“Charlie is disrespecting his mother by not eating the egg salad sandwich she made for him,” he ho-ho’d to himself as his felt tip skated across the paper. “Well, he can kiss that G. I. Joe goodbye!”

Like every other kid, I tried to be on my best behavior to ensure the best possible Christmas. But unlike the other kids, I was constantly tested around the holidays. So it seemed to me anyway. My parents must have talked to Santa about throwing as much at me as possible to see if I’d crack, to see if I’d end up on that naughty list.

And that test usually came in the form of one very annoying great aunt.

See, each and every Christmas, for more years than I care to count, I had to deal with what I called “The Return of the Creature.” In slightly more polite terms, I had to put up with the annoying annual appearance of Great Aunt Belva, who really didn’t deserve that title because she wasn’t related to me in any way and she wasn’t all that great, either. But even as a kid I knew that referring to someone as Mediocre Pseudo-Aunt Belva would be perceived as a tad rude.

Belva was actually the great aunt of the wife of my mother’s first cousin, Calvin. (To climb your way though my family tree you really need one of those “you are here” maps.) She was sort of a relative by default. Second string kin if you will. Belva was often the butt of my jokes, which, of course, brought on the wrath of my mother: “Don’t talk about her like that, young man! Santa Claus is watching you!”

Well, that sucks.

Belva was a myopic little troll with the disposition of rusty barbed wire. A crotchety curmudgeon who had turned complaining into an art form, she was never happy with anything. Ever. I’m not exaggerating. The woman was never happy. Give Belva any situation and she’d suck the light right out of it, guaranteed.

“Hey, Belva! I just ended world hunger!” you might shout joyfully.

“Do you have any idea how much that’s going to cost?” she’d gurgle. “Now hush and turn up the TV. Mike Douglas is coming on!”

She had one eye that never opened, as if it forgot what it was doing mid-blink. A pirate minus the patch. Of course both eyes, open and shut, were clearly visible behind her magnifying Coke-bottle lenses she must have confiscated from a NASA telescope. I swear I could see the pores on her eyelids through those things.

Every year I had to sit across from her at the dinner table, her one enlarged eye drilling a hole in my head like an asymmetrical Cyclops. Her lipstick smeared teeth—whether real or false is known but to God—protruded out to a nearly perfect point, providing generous shade to the hairy mole on her chin. Her head, which was really too large for her 4’11” body to balance, was offset by the osteoporosis hump on her back (at least that’s the reason I began to assume once I overcame the unborn twin theory).

You might be thinking to yourself that her appearance sounds comical, but how exactly does that put me under the Christmas spotlight or risk getting my name on the naughty list? Well, it’s as simple as this: my parents didn’t share my sense of humor. So for example, when Aunt Belva’s physical appearance inspired my popular Christmas carol, “Belva the Buck-Toothed One-Eyed Humpback,” they didn’t see it in the same light as I did and instead of singing along with me, they sent me to my room. Sadly, after years of effort, my favorite holiday song never made the charts thanks to that seasonal stout scandalmonger in scarlet and his secret pact with my parents.

It was a vicious cycle, really. I would come up with another funny joke about Belva and then have to atone by finding a way to repent for it. As each holiday visit from Belva the Pirate approached, I was faced with the unsettling question: would I be waking up Christmas morning to a bundle of toys or a consignment of coal? It’s no wonder that by the age of eight I had already developed stomach ulcers.

Each year I would line up with the other kids to spew my list at the department store Santa Clone. Some would scream, “Give me a football!” while others begged, “I want a bicycle!” I, on the other hand, would approach with my head hanging low and softly whisper, “Forgive me Santa, for I have sinned…”

Copyright © 2014, Charles A. Filius

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